Tale of the tape: Cutler vs. Smith

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Tale of the tape: Cutler vs. Smith

It's unlikely Jay Cutler will play Monday night and there is still question whether San Francisco QB Alex Smith will be fully ready to go. Regardless, it's interesting to see how the two signal callers stack up against each other, statistically.

Smith has always been referred to as a game manager, a guy that doesn't blow you away, but takes care of the football.

Cutler, according to Bears' brass, is Mr. Can do-it-all.

So here's a look at the numbers:

Smith is the NFL's third-rated quarterback with a 104.1 passer rating, trailing only Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers respectively. Jay Cutler is 24th on the list with an 80.4 passer rating. Interestingly both rank near the bottom in pass attempts, Cutler is 28th and Smith is 31st.

Smith leads the league in completion percentage with 70 percent, and Cutler is near the bottom at 59.2 percent.

Smith has 13 touchdown passes and five interceptions, while Jay has tossed 12 scores and 10 picks.

The numbers don't mean Smith is a better quarterback than Cutler, but he has been more efficient in his offense despite being crticized for the way he plays. What it really shows is that the Bears passing game has a long ways to go before they can be considered a top offensive attack.

This week it may be Jason Campbell leading the charge, but once Cutler returns, Mike Tice needs to find a way to jump start the Bears passing game, even if it's a controlled efficient style similar to the 49ers' approach.

Fire add Senegalese midfielder Khaly Thiam

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Fire add Senegalese midfielder Khaly Thiam

After stuttering through the first seven matches of the season, reinforcements are on the way for the Chicago Fire.

Senegalese midfielder Khaly Thiam will join the team later this week on a loan deal with an option to buy. The move is pending league approval although the official announcement is expected soon.

The deal was in the works more than a month ago, but Thiam needed to finish his season with Hungarian team MTK Budapest before joining the Fire. MTK wrapped up its season on Saturday and finished fourth in the Hungarian league, losing out on a Europa League berth on the final match of the season.

“He is going to join us this week," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said during his weekly conference call. "He is going to do physical and medicals. He’ll be here and he’s very important for us. We believe the addition of Thiam is very important to increase our competitiveness with all his qualities, especially he is very good on the ball. He is very good also in aerial duels and his presence on the field is very important. With him we will increase our competitiveness in the team and of course within the league.”

The Fire can use the help immediately after having four players miss out on Saturday’s 1-1 draw with D.C. United due to injury. David Accam is expected to be available against Vancouver on May 11, but odds are he won’t be able to start, especially on a turf field. Matt Polster, John Goossens and Alex Morrell were also out injured against D.C.

Thiam, 22, is a box-to-box midfielder who on paper would seem like a good fit to line up next to Polster as one of the two central mids in Paunovic’s 4-2-3-1 formation. This season for MTK, Thiam made 31 appearances, 27 starts, and scored two goals.

“He can play in different positions in the midfield," Paunovic said. "He can play in different systems. So far we were using 4-2-3-1 as our basic system, standard. In that system he can play either together with another midfielder (or in other roles). He’s going to increase that competitiveness. We can also switch to a 4-3-3, 3-5-2. Being adaptable he can play in different systems and roles, that’s something we value a lot."

He started his professional career in Hungary, playing the past four seasons in that league. He totaled 72 appearances and seven goals in that time.

Fire midfielder Arturo Alvarez played in Hungary before joining the Fire this offseason. A few weeks ago when the rumors started swirling, Alvarez was asked if he had heard of him. For what it's worth, Alvarez recalled him right away and described Thiam as a nice player, who was "tidy" on the ball.

Illinois chancellor announces process to pick new Illini mascot

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Illinois chancellor announces process to pick new Illini mascot

If you were bothered by the lack of a costumed character roaming the sidelines at Illinois football and basketball games, your troubles are over.

University of Illinois chancellor Barbara J. Wilson announced during a campus meeting Monday that the school is beginning the process of choosing a new mascot, according to a report from the Champaign News-Gazette's Julie Wurth.

Mind you, this isn't signalling the return of Chief Illiniwek, who wasn't a masoct anyway, the university classifying the Chief as a symbol. No, this is something new, and the result would figure to be more in the vein of the cartoonish figures celebrating touchdowns and crowd surfing at football and basketball games.

From Wurth's report:

Wilson endorsed the recommendation from an Illinois Student Senate ad hoc committee that recently urged the campus to move forward with a mascot. She met with the group on Friday.

She plans to form a committee of 10 to 12 people that will draw up a process and a timeline. It will include representatives from all the stakeholders involved — students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members.

Wilson, who had already signaled her support for the student effort, said last week that any new mascot would embody the values and traditions of the campus.

Chief Illiniwek was retired in 2007 amid concerns that the costumed performer was offensive to Native Americans. The Illinois marching band still plays the music the Chief used to perform to, and people wearing the costume have appeared in the stands during games while the music played. All that, of course, is unofficial, and while many Illini alumi and fans continue to hope the university will bring back Chief Illiniwek, they will have to settle for whatever this new mascot ends up being.

Certainly, Wilson seems aware that this is a sensitive subject for many.

Illinois is currently one of just three Big Ten schools without a costumed mascot, Indiana and Michigan being the others. Iowa boasts Herky Hawkeye, Maryland has Testudo, Michigan State has Sparty, Minnesota has Goldy Gopher, Nebraska has Herbie Husker (and Li'l Red), Northwestern has Willie Wildcat, Ohio State has Brutus Buckeye, Penn State has the Nittany Lion, Purdue has Purdue Pete, Rutgers has the Scarlet Knight and Wisconsin has Bucky Badger.

Three former Illini sign with NFL teams following NFL Draft

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Three former Illini sign with NFL teams following NFL Draft

Illinois saw three players selected in this past weekend's NFL Draft, and after the festivities were over, three more signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents.

Running back Josh Ferguson signed with the Indianapolis Colts, wide receiver Geronimo Allison signed with the Green Bay Packers, and cornerback/return man V'Angelo Bentley signed with the New England Patriots.

Ferguson, a Naperville native and a Joliet Catholic product, had a strong career in Champaign. He was hampered by injuries last season, playing in just nine games, and finished second on the team with 708 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. He also caught 37 passes for 280 receiving yards and a pair of receiving touchdowns.

Ferguson ranks second in program history in all-purpose yardage with 4,474 yards, sixth in rushing with 2,586 yards and third in receptions with 168 catches. He owns the program records for receiving yards by a running back (1,507) and receptions by a running back (168).

Allison joined the Illini two offseasons ago, transferring in from junior college. He started 12 of the team's 13 games during the 2014 season, ranking second on the team with 598 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Last season, Allison played in all 12 games, catching a team-high 56 passes for a team-high 882 yards and three touchdowns.

Bentley carved out his own corner of the program record book, becoming the only Illinois player ever to score touchdowns via a kick return, punt return, interception return and fumble return. He's the program leader in kick-return yardage with 1,860 yards, and he ranks fourth all-time in punt-return yardage with 550 yards. Last season, Bentley ranked fifth on the Illini defense with 54 tackles.

These three join the trio of Illini who were drafted over the weekend. Defensive end Jihad Ward became the first Illinois product drafted since 2013 when he was selected by the Oakland Raiders with the No. 44 pick in the second round. Offensive lineman Ted Karras was picked at No. 221 by the Patriots, and safety Clayton Fejedelem was drafted at No. 245 by the Cincinnati Bengals.